European ice dance champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin will not compete at the 2008 World Championships, according to the Russian figure skating federation.
Shabalin has re-injured his left knee while training earlier this week and the duo withdrew.
Up until this point, the Russian ice dance team had been having a dream season. They won this season's European Championships and the Grand Prix Final.
Shabalin first injured the knee in December and he underwent surgery that same month.
The two were among the favorites heading into Worlds, which begin in Sweden on March 18. Now the ice dance field appears to be wide open.
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto of the United States won bronze a year ago and also have two other World medals in their stash. They feel they are up for the task. "This is the most prepared we've ever been heading in to any World Championships. "And it's also the best year we've felt as far our package goes, with our programs," Belbin said in a U.S. Figure Skating conference call in early March.
"We have, in our opinion, a great shot at the gold medal, more so than any year in the past," she said. "We're really looking forward to capitalizing on all the preparation that we've put in to this event."
Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France, the 2007 European Championships who claimed silver at that event this year, will be looking to bring a medal home. They were fourth at the World Championships a year ago.
Also in the medal hunt will be the young Canadian team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. They were fourth at the Grand Prix Final in December, won the Canadian title in January, and won the Four Continents title last month.
"At the end of the day, I think whoever can really deliver the most moving, convincing performance will take the title," Belbin said. "It's an exciting year for ice dance because you can't really compare the top [teams]. There are so many different criteria the judges are looking for, and we all have strengths and weaknesses. ... You just have to dedicate yourself to your style, be confident in it and go with it."
The top two teams at last year's World Championships, Albena Denova and Maxim Staviski of Bulgaria (who won gold in 2006 and in 07), and Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon of Canada (last year’s silver medalists) are both taking the season off.